10 Underrated 1980s Action Movies You Proabably Haven’t Seen

5. In the Line of Duty 4 (1989)

Even Jackie Chan was having hard at breaking into American/Western market, so those who were not following Hong Kong martial arts/action might have missed a lot – and really a lot! – of great stuff. “In the Line of Duty 4” is nominally part of the loosely connected In the Line of Duty and Yes, Madam! series. That might cause a confusion because there’s not exactly “In the Line of Duty” 1, 2, 3 but instead we have “Yes, Madam”, “Royal Warriors” and “Force of the Dragon”. However, yeah in some markets, “Force of the Dragon” was released as “In the Line of Duty 4”.

Anyways, back to the film, it’s directed by Woo-Ping Yuen who is one of the best fight choreographers in Hong Kong cinema and he’s doing an incredible job at directing action and fight scenes. It stars Donnie Yen in one of his early roles. It’s unfortunate that he has become a bigger name internationally in the 21st century but some of his earlier output is still unknown to many outside of HK, which is a shame cause there are lots of great stuff. If you look for plot, forget it but if you enjoy Hong Kong action with all of its kung fu, gun fights, sword fights and so on, then this film is for you.


4. Stakeout (1987)

Detectives are assigned to the night shift on a stakeout of waitress whose former boyfriend, has escaped from prison. The FBI asks for cooperation from our detectives in capturing him as they think he might go back to his former girlfriend.

Stayed at number one at US box office for five weeks straight, “Stakeout” has grossed more than the other buddy cop picture of the year “Lethal Weapon”. That’s why it feels interesting that “Stakeout” is barely remembered now because it has all the elements you’d want from an action film. It’s half-buddy cop picture where the humor works so well because of the odd chemistry between Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez. Other half is a romantic comedy, this time pairing Dreyfuss with amazing Madeleine Stowe which will make you realize that movies need her again.

It also has enough of violent action thrills once that part kicks in with Aidan Quinn character. It’s just all around fun movie that was not underrated at the time and needs a re-appraisal. They even made a sequel called “Another Stakeout” and that’s probably very unpopular opinion but that was kind of fun too! Dreyfuss recently tweeted that this is probably the most fun he ever had on the movie set. It’s easy to see why.


3. The Dogs of War (1980)

Compared to other titles, this one is little less heavy on the action but it’s classified as such, so it deserves a place here and this high because it’s a fascinating film. It is based on the writer Frederick Forsyth’s book of the same title, featuring a small group of European mercenary soldiers hired by a British industrialist to depose the government of the fictional African country of Zangaro. The most of the film is dedicated to how they train for it; what kind of weapons they buy, what kind of conversations they have.

The film is basically more about its characters’ occupation than themselves and that’s exactly what makes the movie so fascinating. However, the character development is there too and thanks to Christopher Walken’s magnetic performance, the lead role becomes endlessly watchable and intriguing. Its book was praised as a “textbook for mercenaries” and one cay the same thing about the movie as well. Direcotr John Irvin is on full control here, using the locations and the atmosphere really well. The subject matter is not for everyone’s taste and the film might have a very slow pacing for those who want a “boom boom action movie” but for those who’re looking for an unusual story about these kind of people, it’s a very effective.


2. The Beast (1988)

The Beast of War

Now it’s turn for the tanks for those who love their action set in a war. “The Beast” or “The Beast of War”, as it’s been called in some markets, was one of those films that came out at the wrong time. There was a change of administration at the studio and they didn’t know what to do with it. It all caused the film totally flopping at the box office. Such a shame because it’s one of the most unusual Hollywood productions at the time and one of the finest films of the decade.

The film is about a Soviet tank gets lost and wanders through the mountainous highlands in Afghanistan, pursued by poorly armed but determined Afghans. During this odyssey, tank commander Daskal (George Dzundza) turns out to be a psychopath. Then there’s Koverchenko (Jason Patric), the moral driver torn between being a good soldier and obeying his instincts. Besides being a great, some kind of claustrophobic nightmare, the film also has a profound anti-war statement. The film should also be noted for featuring one of Mark Isham’s best scores. Who knows if this is the best film on the list or not, because it’s up to your taste but it’s possibly the most unique one.


1. The Stunt Man (1980)

The Stunt Man (1980)

Such lists tend to end with William Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” that it almost became a cliché. Of course, that film is a masterpiece of its own and many film fans are excited to know that the legend Friedkin is working on a new film but it feels like “The Stunt Man” gets less appreciation these days despite being so original. The film is about a Vietnam veteran who’s wanted for attempted murder. On the run from the police, he slips into the role of a stuntman who died in an accident through his own fault. He is initially fascinated by his job and the earning potential; however, it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to separate film and reality and to see through the director’s mind games.

That director is played Peter O’Toole who’s got another Oscar nomination for his terrific performance as the director who would seemingly do anything for his art. In a lesser year, he’d probably win but it’s no easy task if you’re up against Robert De Niro for “Raging Bull”, while Lemmon, Duvall and John Hurt also being there. When even Donald Sutherland gets snubbed for “Ordinary People”, you get the idea of what kind of year that is.

Anyways, the film reflects the medium in a surprising way while entertaining in the best sense of the word. There are examples of “movie magic”, where a scene of wartime carnage is revealed as just stunt men and props but are films really made this way? Who knows? That’s part of the magic as well. There’s much to talk here but it’s fun, multilayered, unusual film worth to be seen and experienced by yourself.